Question: How does the Church explain the existence of human-like beings on the earth prior to Adam?

Table of Contents

Question: How does the Church explain the existence of human-like beings on the earth prior to Adam?

There has been a great deal of controversy among Church members over the issue of pre-Adamites

When studying the creation, how do we deal with the evidence of creatures that looked a lot like man, who lived and made tools, painted paintings, etc., all before what could be the existence of Adam? How do we answer who they were? Are they like animals? We clearly have evidence that they have lived here on this planet.

There has been a great deal of controversy among Church members over the issue of pre-Adamites. Some general authorities accepted their existence, while others completely denied it. The most famous disagreement was between Elders B.H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith. Following this debate, the First Presidency wrote to the general authorities:

Both parties [i.e., Elders Smith and Roberts] make the scripture and the statements of men who have been prominent in the affairs of the Church the basis of their contention; neither has produced definite proof in support of his views…

Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored Gospel to the people of the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.

We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary are certain that it would lead to confusion, division and misunderstanding if carried further. Upon one thing we should all be able to agree namely, that presidents Joseph F. Smith, John Winder and Anthon Lund were right when they said: "Adam is the primal parent of our race. [1]

Elder James E. Talmage noted in his journal:

...Involved in this question is that of the beginning of life upon the earth, and as to whether there was death either of animal or plant before the fall of Adam, on which proposition Elder Smith was very pronounced in denial and Elder Roberts equally forceful in the affirmative. As to whether Preadamite races existed upon the earth there has been much discussion among some of our people of late. The decision reached by the First Presidency, and announced to this morning's assembly, was in answer to a specific question that obviously the doctrine of the existence of races of human beings upon the earth prior to the fall of Adam was not a doctrine of the Church; and, further, that the conception embodied in the belief of many to the effect that there were no such Preadamite races, and that there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam's fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church. I think the decision of the First Presidency is a wise one in the premises. This is one of the many things upon which we cannot preach with assurance and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good. [2]

Hugh Nibley: "Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God's affection or even a right to exaltation"

Probably the best approach is the one taken by Dr. Hugh Nibley:

Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God's affection or even a right to exaltation — for our scriptures allow them such. Nor am I overly concerned as to just when they might have lived, for their world is not our world. They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared. God assigned them their proper times and functions, as he has given me mine — a full-time job that admonishes me to remember his words to the overly eager Moses: "For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me." (Moses 1:31.) It is Adam as my own parent who concerns me. When he walks onto the stage, then and only then the play begins. [3]

The science has advanced substantially since Nibley's article, and so its scientific claims should no longer be considered current. However, his theologic and historic perspective is still useful.

Notes

  1. First Presidency, Memorandum to General Authorities, April 1931, 6–7.
  2. James Edward Talmage, Personal Journal (7 April 1931) 29:42, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (emphasis added).
  3. Hugh W. Nibley, "Before Adam," in Hugh W. Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies (Vol. 1 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1986),82–83.GL direct link off-site